Located a twenty-four mile drive west from the popular L'Anse area, this West Branch Sturgeon (one of four in all of Michigan, three in the U.P.), is more akin to the streams of the Ontonagon watershed to the west. In the mile and a half that contains most of the whitewater in this reach, the river flows over a sandstone bedrock bottom featuring a series of slides and ledges. The slab streambed creates velocities greater than one may expect at this gradient and there are very few eddies as the river snakes its way through the woods.
Newberry Road dead-ends at the site of a former bridge over the West Branch. The latter part of this road does not see much usage, so expect road conditions to be poor in early season. At the end of the road, just east of the old bridge site is an unusual shrine to (or perhaps grave of?) "Joe the Plumb". This is marked by a wooden cross on which a spigot has been installed. The cross is decorated with a deer skull, and a number of bones lie about the base, along with a 3 wood golf club and a beer stein from the FBI. Curious to say the least.
The river appears quite benign at the start, meandering through the forest with snags in the stream at several points. After about a mile of paddling, the river widens a little and accelerates into the first drop, Hogger Falls. The next stretch is pretty much continuous. As with all the drops here, if you wish to scout, look well downstream and get out as soon as you see the horizon line. Eddies are limited (or non-existent) in the approaches to many of the drops, so exit may require paddling to the bank and grabbing a tree. Hogger Falls is a slide of about 8'-10' into a small, mossy grotto under an overhanging cliff face. The drop can be run just about anywhere, with a higher angle drop river right and a lower angle slide river left.
From this grotto, the river turns hard to the left and takes off into the woods again. After a twist or two, a low angle slide sequence is encountered that ends in a turn to the left and puts one in the approach to another ledge. This ledge is about 5'-6' with a medium angle. The left side bottom of the ledge is obstructed within fallen rock and a "harpoon" log was pointed upstream (when we did our exploratory run) so run middle or right. A pair of vertical ledges (in the 3'-4' range) follow, one of which had a tree spanning the top. These ledges are fairly uniform so may create aggressive hydraulics at moderate to high flows, especially since they are somewhat undercut. This sequence culminates in a medium-sized, left-curving, low angle slide. Just around the bend from here lies West Branch Falls. This drop is a 6'-7' vertical in the center and left, with an unfriendly high angle slide on the right. Run off a high point with some speed. A short bit of class II rockbed follows before the river becomes a meandering stream through the forest once again.
The next 1 3/4 miles of river (until the confluence of Greenier Creek) are very heavily obstructed with downed trees as a result of the record high flows early April '02. The final 3/4 mile down to the take-out is clean. In light of all of these snags, it may be easier to take-out below West Branch Falls on river left and carry up to a logging road which parallels the upper part of the reach. Under good conditions, it may be possible to bring a 4WD vehicle in to this point but otherwise, it's a carry back of about 1 1/2 miles to Newberry Rd. This two-track road is the last obvious one on the left (east) when approaching the river, about 0.2 miles from the river. (Some reports suggest this may be gated.)
A photo essay may be found in the following blog site: Waterfall Record.
There is a Vista Falls marked on many maps upstream of this reach. There is no falls on the West Branch at this location and the section of river is mainly quietwater. (Perhaps the falls refers to a side creek?)
A good companion piece to this reach may be had on the W.Br.Otter, which is located about five miles to the north. The W.Br.Otter has a larger watershed, so may be an alternate if this run is found to be too low.
*IF* this road proves passable (given your vehicle and snow/mud conditions which may prevail when you are there), you may be able to drive to this point to cut off the flatwater access and just run the best of the gradient. However, some reports suggest the road may be gated. (If you have personal experience with this truck-trail, please help out your fellow boaters by adding a comment below.
As is so often the case online, the label/marking for Hogger Falls is (as others are) horribly misplaced (on all maps I find) barely even close to the river, much less to the proper location, and (in fact) jumping a bit from one resolution (level of zoom) to another. That said, I believe this is the location of the start of the Hogger Falls sequence.
Somewhere near this point the peak gradient subsides and some of the snagfest may begin. Aditional short ledge/drops and rapids do exist downstream, but you must decide if you prefer seeing the rest of the run vs. doing this more as a 'park and huck' of the big gradient, hiking back up to your vehicle when the river-going may get problematic.
It is very difficult to tell (from aerial views and other online maps) where the actual West Branch Falls is. As previously mentioned, markings tend to be well off the river and well off the actual location, and shift location at different zoom levels.
An unnamed (at least, on all maps I find online) creek enters from river-right. (There may be a pretty fair ledge/drop just upstream on this, but beyond that, it's small and very likely totally wooded up.)
Perjury Creek enters from river-right.
A pretty decent-sized island (for such a small stream) splits the flow, and is extremely likely to accumulate deadfall and snags.
An unnamed (at least, on all maps I find online) creek enters from river-right.
Greenier Creek enters from river-left.
* Reference gauge is Sturgeon at Sidnaw. While the Sturgeon nr Alston gauge is closer, the Sidnaw gauge should more accurately reflect conditions in this reach.
Min/Max are merely guesses, and correlation between rivers is not assured.
Falls River in L'Anse should be at a good flow. Visual at either access point should show a strong, medium to high flow.
Note that since the bedrock slides in this reach are of gritty sandstone, this does not make a good low-flow run. High flows will make this a high speed flush with limited eddies and some very aggressive riverwide holes.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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